WHENEVER the aerospace industry is mentioned, what often comes to mind is the research, development, and manufacture of aircraft and spacecraft systems.
But how do you use aerospace concepts to create solutions for smart cities that would improve the life of ordinary people, particularly in areas such as transportation, infrastructure and security, and lead to greater innovation in the industry.
This was the challenge posed to participants of the Airbus Start-up Event held in Singapore last month which saw 80 under and post-graduate students from Singapore, Malaysia, France, India, the Netherlands and Turkey pitting against each other in groups of three to five.
Participants worked day and night over three days, to fine-tune their ideas, and each team had three minutes to pitch their plans to a panel of judges, which included representatives from Airbus — the global aeronautics, space and related services company — and the local agencies specialising in defence science, technology, space and economic development.
What the judges were looking for was how realistic the business model is for each particular solution; whether the business model had been validated by potential customers; technical execution of the proposed business case; and the overall presentation of each team.
Team R.E.D, comprising four post-graduate students from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and University of Malaya (UM), clinched the top spot with their first responder application for emergency and disaster support — taking home S$5,000 (RM16,000) in cash and an A380 full flight simulator experience.
Team R.E.D. chief executive officer Brenna Chen Jia Tian, a Bioresource Management (Sustainable Aviation) PhD student from UPM; chief financial officer Vilson Chew Sze Soon, a Master of Engineering Science in Augmented Reality for Vehicle Ergonomic Design student from UM; technology co-heads who are also from UM, Master of Engineering Science in Manufacturing System student Tan Chee Hau and Master of Engineering Science in Automation, Control and Robotics Choo Hui Kang — all expressed that it was the doable factor of their pitch and the comprehensive business aspect that clinched the deal.
According to Chen, although the four of them had earlier got to know each other when working on a project under the industry-led Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC), the topic was a new one for all group members.
“The concept was new aerospace and we had to use satellite data which none of us have the knowledge of previously. Because the application was for smart nations, we had to do something that connect the industry, the community, everyone,” she said.
Project R.E.D (Response for Emergency & Disaster) stems from the need for a faster response time for emergency and relief services. The time it takes for emergency and relief services is critical and is correlated to the survival rate of the target. Project R.E.D can be implemented in any densely populated city or country, such as Singapore, whose size and population density can serve as an excellent platform for demonstration.
Chew said in one year, around 10,000 who experienced heart attack in Singapore failed to be saved due to the misalignment between the time of ambulance’s arrival and the window in which they could be saved.
“Our application allows basic support to be given via the deployment of drones to the people encountering emergencies while waiting for the actual emergency support such as ambulance or fire engine to come,” said Chew.
Project R.E.D utilises the current advancements in drone technology and integrate vital “packages” needed for first responder response. Used together with a pairing app for smartphones, a user can report an emergency (and the type of emergency for appropriate response action), which triggers the closest drone base to respond to the emergency.
There are several response modes of the drone base spanning from medical, fire, surveillance and disaster. The appropriate mode will be selected based on the emergency reported.
The entire process is monitored and managed through a central command system. The speed of the drone first responder is estimated to be nearly four times faster than current services, well within what Team R.E.D termed as the “golden time” for rescue.
The project brings together state-of-the art network communication, boasts utilisation of current smartphone technology, complements with emergency services, puts rescue in the hands of the community, and is deployable in virtually every city.
“If something happens, the user presses the emergency button on the mobile app on their phone and the 4G telco network will send the signal to our control system, the control system will notify our drone as well as the ambulance to come to the area. This is how the app works,” Tan said.
In its business plan, Team R.E.D proposed to partner with Airbus as well as government agencies to operate the whole system.
“Because this start-up event happened in Singapore, we constructed it based on the Singapore context from working together with governmental agency like hospitals, police, the fire department as well as a local telco company for 4G signals. We would like to develop this application further and customise it for the Malaysian environment,” said Chen.
The first step towards that is embarking on efforts to file the patent for the application. “Of course, our ultimate aim is to pitch the usage of this system to the local government,” said Chew.
At the prize-giving of the Airbus Start-up Event, Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury said the company is making multiple efforts to deepen its engagement with the start-up ecosystem, and the event was part of a broader global effort to increase the speed of innovation in the aerospace industry.
“This start-up event allows Airbus to tap on the vibrant start-up eco-system in the region.
We met some talented developers with interesting ideas, and we are confident that some of these can contribute to aerospace innovation in this region,” he said.
Other impressive ideas that came out of the event included one that uses IoT (Internet of things) sensors and satellite data for early detection and management of oil spills, and another that leverages a network of drones and satellite sensors to provide an efficient delivery solution.
A strong advocate for technology development, Airbus is involved in several innovation projects in the region. These include the “Hangar of the Future”, which aims to develop new digital solutions for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) providers, and the Skyways unmanned parcel delivery system.